Rogers and Hammerstein immortalized the windswept plains of Oklahoma. It was a brutal existence for the early pioneers. It is still a hard land for those trying to wrest a living from the soil. It was in that crucible that my children learned to work.
My daughter tells the story best in these excerpts from one of her college essays entitled Rubber Boots:
“That first pair of boots came when I was five. I remember rubbing sleep out of my eyes while stumbling outside to weed the garden before the sun became too hot. . .
As my rubber boots got bigger, I wore them for different jobs. When I was nine we went through a particularly hard time financially. For three years my brother and I cleaned construction sites one or two days a week to pay for schoolbooks, personal items, and activities. During those twelve-hour days when sweat ran down my back and dust blew in my eyes I came to believe that if I wanted something, all I had to do was work hard enough to get it. I was proud of earning my own way and I accepted hard work as a part of life and figured out how to enjoy it. I also had to learn early how to manage my time, because the days at home were spent catching up with school and violin practice. . .
I still put on my boots twice a day to feed my steers. I don’t spend as many hours in them as I used to, but when I look back at my rubber-boot years I realize that they defined me. Those times introduced me to the real world where work, no matter how challenging, can be enjoyed and learning something new is an intriguing journey. I still believe that if I work hard enough, I can achieve my dreams.”
That, my friends is work. The tough kind that forges self-respect, confidence, time management, frugality, and an old-fashioned work ethic.
I admit I have to laugh when I hear that a teenage boy’s job is to carry out the trash and feed the dog. Job? That’s just part of being a family along with doing dishes, dusting, vacuuming, mowing grass, painting, and whatever else needs to be done around the house to keep things going. It’s just life. Like breathing. And, it should be done with the same regularity if you plan for your kids to have a clue.
Your kids should know how to work for many, many reasons, but work experience can have a positive effect on college applications as well.
Many College Admissions Officers place high value on kids that have proved they know how to work. It shows responsibility and initiative. Many admissions officers come from working class backgrounds and can be a bit tired of the piles of applications from privileged kids that flood their desk.
Real work is about getting a job, being responsible, growing up. It is something too few teens understand. Obviously, few people still live on the farm with its rich heritage of training kids for the real world. But there are plenty of opportunities for kids in any environment:
Working for an employer in a traditional teen job – This can be harder to do in some areas of the country, but most enterprising teens can still find a job.
- Pros – Your student learns the value of a dollar, how to function in the work place, how to answer to someone else.
- Cons – This type of work can really tie a student down to an inflexible schedule and can affect grades and other leadership opportunities if not handled carefully.
Becoming an entrepreneur – I’ve known kids that started their own website development businesses, started teaching students in their own music studio, organized a service business (dog walking, mowing yards, cleaning houses), just to name a few.
- Pros – Kids learn management skills, how to set their own hours, how to market, how to deal with the public.
- Cons – The student doesn’t learn to work under someone else’s directives, they have to be careful that their academic record stays strong.
Finding a job or a paying internship is the student’s potential career field is even more beneficial. Not only do they have the benefits we’ve already mentioned, but they are able to explore very early a career path and decide if that honestly fits what they want to do.
Let me give you some examples of young people I’ve known:
- One young man wanted to pursue research and started volunteering at a private lab at a young age and by high school had worked into a paying position with the company’s research team.
- A young woman wanted to pursue a career in fashion design. She worked in retail sales at an exclusive clothing shop learning the trade.
- A young man wanted to pursue law so worked in a law firm.
- A young man wanted to be a coach some day, so hired out to run an inner city youth sports camp.
An unusual job makes you memorable to an Admissions Officer – Interviewers were intrigued that my son worked as a ring master for an auctioneer, a swamper for a welder, and changed irrigation pipe on the family farm. They asked my daughter questions about being an interior finisher for a small construction company, a private violin instructor, and a contributing author for a published book.
There are poor reasons for wanting to work – Far too often teens get caught up in working for frivolous things like working in a clothing store (and spending every dime they make in that store) so they can be at the height of fashion, flipping hamburgers to put gas in the car to drive to the mall to hang out with friends, etc. I’ve seen too many kids squander precious years working for worthless things and thus disqualifying themselves for good colleges and better careers.
Work in the right season – I believe work training starts when the kid learns to walk and should reach a peak in early high school. This is the time to hold down demanding jobs or those with inflexible schedules. The late teen years are the time to hone academic skills to be able to qualify for good colleges and scholarships, perfect musical skills, explore careers, etc. Jobs at this point are ideally more flexible and more focused toward their future career.
Teaching our kids to work is not child abuse, it is grooming them to be successful in life.
Look Who’s Talking!
“Jeanette didn’t ask me to write this testimonial. I offered to do it after experiencing her excellent, ‘beyond the call of duty’ service to our eldest son and our entire family.
My wife and I are college graduates and I went to an Ivy League school, so the process of applying wasn’t a black box to us. But we both came out of public high schools and made our applications from within the educational ‘establishment.’ In addition, that was a quarter of a century ago, and the times have changed. As home schooling parents, we didn’t have an office of guidance counselors behind us. So instead the Lord led us to something better: Jeanette!
The fact is, admissions officers at most upper level universities still aren’t sure how to assess a home schooled child. And we weren’t sure how to present our son to them! Jeanette took us inside the mind of the admissions officers at today’s upper level schools and showed us how to ‘package’ our son in a way that would enable them to understand his actual achievements and activities, even though many of them don’t fit into the traditional model of public or private schools.
Jeanette really took the time to understand our son and our family. As a Christian, she was able both to understand and support our ultimate goal of seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness.
The end result, under God’s providence, is our son was accepted early admission to an Ivy League school tied for fifth place in the latest national rankings. And we received a no-loan financial aid package that will cover 95% of the total costs.”